Refuse to become like those who have abused you, and abandon your desire to spread malice because of your pain and anger. Stop pursuing vindication and let go of all of your resentment. After purging your soul of toxic emotions, ask the Holy Spirit to fill your soul with love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness.

Write an account of your abusive experiences as well as your subsequent behavior. Take an inventory of what happened to you and how you acted out as a result. Be honest as you record this in writing, and enjoy the freedom you’ll feel when you expose your dark past to God’s light.

Share your experience and your own wrongdoing with a trusted friend. Meet with a friend to discuss your thoughts and feelings about the abuse you’ve suffered and the unhealthy ways you’ve reacted to it. Choose a friend who will accept you just as you are while gently guiding you, encouraging you to heal, and praying for you.

Humbly ask God to change you and help you forgive your abusers. Invite God to change every part of you so you can become the person He intends you to become. Rely on God’s help to forgive the religious leaders who abused you. Remember that God has forgiven you for many sins, and He will bless you with a closer relationship with Him when you obey His command to forgive others as He has forgiven you.

Choose to believe that God still has a good purpose for your life. Trust God’s promises that He has a good purpose and a hopeful future for you. From now on, choose: love over hate, right over wrong, forgiveness over retaliation, reconciliation over alienation, faith over fear, joy over depression, and peace over turmoil.

Nurture your relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to you and give you the power to carry it out. Make your relationship with God your top priority, and base all of your decisions on that. Ask God to show you how you can help other people who have gone through religious abuse and act on whatever specific ways God calls you to help others who need to heal.

Adapted from Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom, copyright 2011 by Jack Watts. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Brentwood, Tn., http://christian.simonandschuster.com/howard.
As a young boy and a young man, Jack Watts experienced multiple expressions of religious abuse, which led to self-destructive behaviors that nearly ruined his life. But through programs such as AA and the support of loving Christians, he made much progress toward recovery. However, he found that the particular effects of religious abuse needed a program beyond what he had experienced. Thus began his journey to find the spiritual freedom his heart yearned for and the eventual creation of the 11-step program, Recovering from Religious Abuse. Jack has an A.B., from Georgia State University; an M.A., from Baylor University; and has completed everything except for his dissertation for a Ph.D. from Emory University. He has worked for nearly three decades in marketing, exclusively serving Christian ministries and publishers. You can visit his website at: www.pushingjesus.com.

Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor.  You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.

Publication date: March 14, 2011